ISBN-13: 9781594745263
Publisher: Quirk Publishing
Publication Date: 23 September 2014
Format: eBook, 240 pgs

Source: NetGalley

"A Better Life for the Everyone" - That's the slogan for Orsk; an all-American furniture superstore in Scandinavia drag, offering well-designed lifestyles which is below prices of a certain Swedish furniture superstore (you know which one), or so it claims. Orsk's well-calibrated system, their wide range of products and well-oriented customer services are the draw, but for whatever reasons the store is falling short of corporate sales expectations, and it's not even the lack of customers that does it. 

Amy, an employee in Orsk, has requested for a transfer to another outlet in Youngstown. She used to work there but she couldn't stand Basil, the newly appointed manager who always seems to stand in her way and use any excuses for a reprimanding. She had had enough and was waiting for that transfer documentation to go through until something weird happened at Orsk. Damaged merchandises are found when they open their store in the morning, though the staff who work on the last shift has claimed all merchandises are in good order before they leave the store. Basil proposed a plan to Amy and Ruth Anne, another employee of Orsk, to work extra shift at night so they could catch the culprit. However, they are not to utter this plan to anyone, as Basil stated this to be a covert operation. However, it isn't robbery or vandalism they have to deal with but a pack of creepy crawlies with their leader who claims is a warden before Orsk exists. 

Horrorstör has all the elements of a horror story; a spooky setting (never mind it's not a haunted house) of an enclosed superstore with no convenient exits nearby (claustrophobia is another creepy factor here) in the middle of the night, and of course those paranormal activities that make you bite your nails. The furniture maze indeed provides a great atmospheric setting, as one never knows what is lurking behind those closets. Characterisations wise is average, for there isn't anyone I felt stands out; perhaps Amy if I have to choose one, since the frightful incident has changed her overall perspective in her work and life in general.     

That said, this interesting setting is not the core highlight; the story layout is another thing that I feel would catch any readers' attention as each chapter begins with an illustration of a furniture product with a faux Scandinavian name which so reminds me of a catalogue; and as the story progresses these products become more sinister and dangerous looking. I have to say my reading experience with Horrorstör is quite a refreshing one; and I can imagine reading from a print copy doubles that feeling (mine is an eBook version). And I suppose I'd always think of this book whenever I make a trip to that certain Swedish furniture store. 

ISBN-13: 9780751540451
Publisher: Sphere
Publication Date: 3 September 2009

Format: Paperback, 515 pgs
Source: Personal Library

The Concubine's Secret (aka The Girl from Junchow) is the sequel to The Russian Concubine (my review here). Our heroine, Lydia has since moved on with her life, leaving China and her Chinese lover, Chang An Lo, to search for her father back in her country land, Russia. She is still somewhat in shock to learn that her father had survived from the Bolshevik army so many years ago and is now captive in a prison camp. Together with her half-brother Alexei, they began their search for their father. Lydia couldn't bear the thought of leaving Chang, but she knew that the Chinese Communist Party needs him and that someday they would reunion again. 

Chang, on the other end, is adamant over their mission in driving out the Nationalists Party, but deep inside his heart he still felt for them whenever he succeeded in destroying the troops. He thought about the families and loved ones who are waiting for all of them. After all, they are all the same. And then, there are his doubts in their leader Mao Tse Tung, as he isn't sure if he is the right person to rule China, given his corruption, his lust for power and his ruthless actions. Would Mao bring to China the justice and equality it craves? And finally, would fate allows him to reunite with Lydia again should he travel to Russia as part of a Chinese Communist Party delegation to meet the Russian leader on Communism exchanges? 

Back in her country land, Lydia has never felt any closer to her half-brother although her Russian is rusty. Though she isn't familiar with the land anymore, her hope in finding her father is high. But, danger looms in Moscow as in Junchow, China. In fact, the danger doubles as not only she has to thread carefully with the Commandant and his wife (who may hold some information to the prison camp where her father might be) but also Alexei being a member of a criminal brotherhood, after an incident which almost had him killed. 

Despite this is the sequel to The Russian Concubine, this book could read as a standalone (there are flashes of some main scenarios like how Lydia and Chang was acquainted and so forth so readers get a gist of the background). While I think The Russian Concubine was a great read, this sequel gives us a more in-depth view of the two lead characters' struggles and dilemmas as not only they have to face the consequences of being caught if seen together but also the unforeseen circumstances that lies ahead should they choose to be together. We see a more matured Lydia in this sequel, in terms of her thoughts and her fiery determination still remains as strong as ever. Chang, on the other hand, became more sentimental as compared to Lydia, which I thought is a romantic notion since he felt so many emotions of both China and Lydia in The Russian Concubine. In fact, I'd seen him as a man who treasure sentimental values aside from his loyalty, and these make him more charming underneath his cool, calm demeanour. 

Once again, I found myself engrossed in this historical fiction. Filled with adventures and romance, it had me captivated throughout the story as I found myself rooting for Lydia and Chang, hoping that their relationship would conquer every obstacles which are thrown into their ways. And the same goes to finding her father. All in all, it was an intense and satisfying read.

ISBN-13: 9781471137358
Publisher: Simon & Schuster 
Publication Date: 30 September 2014

Format: Hardcover, 432 pgs
Source: Personal Library

This story is told in second person point of view. Joe, who is working in a bookstore, is instantly smitten with aspiring writer Guinevere Beck the moment she steps into the store. Joe is our narrator and he's addressing to Beck throughout this story. I have to admit second person POV is my least favourite style amongst all. Not only it is the least commonly used POV in fiction but also I think the effectiveness is not that great but I was intrigued with Joe's thoughts so I read on. 

Beck isn't shy to talk to strangers and she loves sharing her thoughts online (as Joe found out later through the stuff he read on her site). As if that aren't enough, she's also an exhibitionist (as Joe knew through his stalking) and she seems to have a huge crush on a man called Benji. Joe is determined to make her his; he broke into her house to read her stuff when she was away. He pocketed her mobile when she thought she'd lost it, and knew all her comments and movements through the emails she responded to her friends (she didn't want to delete her old lost mobile in case her mother freaked out; plus she thought it wasn't a big deal). Joe's behaviours are deemed abnormal and all his acts make him an obsessive stalker. 

However, Beck isn't really an angel either. She is self-centered; she likes having flings and there of course, she likes talking with strangers. The thing is, she hardly mentions Joe to her friends, despite her habit of sharing gossips and trading stories with them and this makes readers wondering where Joe stand. At times like this, it somewhat makes readers feel sympathetic towards him, given what he had done for Beck and she didn't appreciate or reciprocate his feelings. It felt strange, given he is a stalker. But of course we all knew this obsessive relationship would quickly spiral into something uncontrollable, and this is where the (creepy) thrill element comes in. 

You is a dark, twisted and compelling story about obsessive relationship and deceit. Because this is written in second person POV, Joe's thoughts and behaviours shine like neon lights, signalling his dark and "protective" side. However, the more we get to know Joe, we also found out that he is actually a clever, well read person and a discipline man too. What scenario looms ahead became unknown, because the more Joe shares his thoughts, we began to see something different as well. 

I wanted to say this story wasn't appealing to me for a few reasons but I couldn't. For starters, the second person POV doesn't fit my reading but in this case it fits the stalking theme. And, there isn't any likeable characters here but they are interesting in their own way. It makes you think of some people's behaviours and how judgemental we can be at times. Then there is also this unreliable factor which makes you wonder about Joe and Beck; what kind of a person they truly are. And finally, which book lovers doesn’t love a bookstore setting and having some bookish references here and there? 

Note: There are some graphic account in terms of sexuality and language. 


ISBN-13: 9781633751521
Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC
Publication Date: 17 November 2014
Format: eBook, 334 pgs
Source: NetGalley

Top Chef Tilly Danes is pissed with Maxwell Etheridge, an international food critic who slammed her on his blog, on the day of the big Personal Chef Showdown for the Culinary Channel. If it's not for the owner of the Channel, she wouldn't be rubbing elbows with that man. 

Jordan Kelly shares the same sentiments with Tilly. Like Tilly, he is a chef and both of them own a restaurant of their own. He too, is invited by the Channel to be one of the judging panels for the show. Despite their dislike towards the arrogant man, they aren't really in friendly terms. Tilly thinks Jordan is too charming and a flirt, while Jordan thinks Tilly is too tough and independent for a woman in his opinion. You can say they are nemesis in each other's eyes, still they tolerated each other. 

As much as they dislike Maxwell, they couldn't imagine anyone murdering him, especially not having one of his organs severed. Unfortunately, Tilly and Jordan are the twosome who have found Maxwell's dead body in his suite before the show. And since Maxwell is not a well-liked person, it seems difficult to pinpoint anyone. Everyone becomes a suspect; from the host, the contestants and even Maxwell's lover. 

Added to the story is Detective Jericho's attraction towards Tilly. Though Tilly is somewhat flattered by his admiration, she isn't ready for a relationship, especially she got pregnant when she was fifteen and the two relationships thereafter made her think that it is hard to find a decent man and get settled down. 

Now Jordan and Tilly may hate each other guts, still it doesn't please Jordan to see Jericho and Tilly as a pair. And despite their awkward situation, they find themselves working together with the investigation. The owner of the Channel claimed their involvement in the case might help to boost viewership but they know better. 

Romantic suspense is one of my favourite genres. I think a great romantic suspense is having these two elements well balanced with interesting characters. In this case, I think the suspense (intensity as well as the police procedural) element in Recipe for Love did not feel up to par. However, the exchanges between Tilly and Jordan could be amusing at times, though. And if you are going for the romance the chemistry between Tilly and Jordan is sizzling, from their snarky comments to the opposite attracts. While I find Recipe for Love an entertaining read, I couldn't help feeling let down on the suspense part (and not a glimpse of some food recipes and cooking too? Aw.)

ISBN-13: 9781843915447
Publisher: Hesperus Press Ltd
Publication Date: 11 August 2014
Format: Paperback, 522 pgs
Source: Personal Library
Translated from the Danish by Steve Schein

This story is split into two parts with different settings. The setting of the first part is WWII Germany. However, this is not really a war story but more of a psychological wartime thriller about two RAF pilots' harrowing experience after escaping from death and finding themselves in a more dangerous position. 

James Teasdale and Bryan Young are from the British flight crew. They are two out of the twelve crew to have selected for a mission. Their job is to take photographs of the aeroplane factories at some designated locations and map out the area thoroughly, including the railway network around Dresden. The Intelligence had a hunch that these factories produce synthetic fuel and that they could lend impetus to new German V-bomb projects. And after James and Bryan have completed their jobs, they would rejoin through formation on its way back to England. 

Unfortunately, the bad weather is just the beginning. Despite the place is heavily guarded, they managed to have the photos taken but in the end, they couldn't escape the fate of having their plane shot down. Still, Lady Luck decided to give them a chance as they parachuted out of the plane before it landed. On cold ground, it made it even harder for them to run but they have no other options. They jumped into a train after spotting a railway line. A transported hospital train, it is the start of their nightmarish trip after they have swapped places with two wounded and barely conscious SS officers. They later learnt that the patients sharing the same carriages with them are all mentally ill, and their destination is the Alphabet House, a secure mental institute for high-ranking officers damaged by war. The other threat they are to face is four malingerers within their ward who would do anything for their own greed and freedom. 

In the second part of the story, the scenario changed and thirty years have passed. Germany was capitulated; Bryan is moving on with his own business in England and James' life remains unknown after Bryan managed to escape from the Alphabet House alone. It was only a visit from Captain Wilkens, a former intelligence officer whom Bryan had briefly met after the rescue that makes Bryan want to dig up into the past, again. He is set to find James at any costs, but that also means crossing paths with his tormentors once again, those malingerers from the Alphabet House

I think the premise is intriguing, but what also makes this story an interesting read is James and Bryan. They may be college mates and combat buddies, but their personality differ vastly and at times it seems it is impossible that they could work together. James seems to have the say and make most decisions under many circumstances, while Bryan is the simple and more practical one. It would be rather interesting and amusing to see their personality clash under other (normal) circumstances, but with this gloomy setting it just complicates matters. 

Alphabet House is an extremely intense psychological thriller that had me at the edge from the start till the end. Jussi Alder-Olsen is well known for his Department Q series, which I have yet to explore, thinking that this standalone would be a great start to familiarise with his writing style and the storytelling. And I have to say they didn't disappoint me. His prose is wonderful; and the pace and the intensity are excellent. It had me thinking about friendship, love and survival all in all; it was both a compelling and thought-provoking read. I found myself at a loss for words after reading the last page because I was still grasping of the meaning of the outcome. Bottom line, I was simply blown away by this story. I think this would be one of my top reads this year. 

ISBN-13: 9780765328687
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication Date: 17 June 2014
Format: Paperback, 336 pgs
Source: Personal Library

As this is a sequel to Anna Dressed in Blood, please note there are some spoilers in this review pertaining to the first book. However, my thoughts would be vague for this sequel. 

Six months have passed since Anna Korlov sarcrificed herself and was perished to hell, together with the Obeahman who'd tried to kill them all. Cas, our hero, has difficulties forgetting Anna despite his sidekicks, Carmel and Thomas, asked him to let everything go. How could he, when she had saved him twice? Plus, he has fallen in love with her. Despite Anna is a ghost and she would never come back, Cas still pines for her and thinks no other girls would be able to compare with his dear Anna. 

Missing her or not, Cas now finds himself seeing Anna everywhere. Is it real or just his hallucinations? He has no answers; but there's one thing he wants to know is, what happened to her after she opened that door to Hell in her basement on that fateful day. 

Girl of Nightmares takes off right where Anna Dressed in Blood left. In this sequel, we see a more vulnerable Cas. He's still a warrior in every sense, but his fighting spirit clashes with his doubts; thinking if Anna is back and/or if she suffers where she was perished. He's suffering too, both in his mind and heart. I missed the old witty Cas back in Anna Dressed in Blood; however this vulnerable side of him made me think that he too has sentimental values, and not just any boy who would forget and move on. For this, I couldn't help but to feel empathy towards him. Thomas, on the other hand, has made me looked at him in a new light in this sequel. If I thought he was nothing but a psychic in the first book, then this sequel has made him into someone more important; someone whom Cas relies on when he is in need of him. 

If Anna Dressed in Blood is an action-packed paranormal, then I have to say Girl of Nightmares has something more; it was emotional and there are definitely more actions, since Cas and his sidekicks would do anything to save Anna from Hell, and from the Obeahman. The journey there was an extremely intense read! 

I was sorry that this story has come to an end; I'd enjoyed it so much. The ending. . . I just have to say it was satisfying. I couldn't think of any ending better than that. 

Oh, before I end this post, Ms. Blake has another new paranormals out - Antigoddess and Mortal Gods, and I'm very curious about these two books. Hopefully they would be as good as Cas and Anna's stories.